Propaganda through travel writing: Frederick Burnaby`s contribution



Propaganda through travel writing: Frederick Burnaby`s contribution
Edebiyat Fakültesi Dergisi / Journal of Faculty of Letters
Cilt/Volume 26 Sayı/Number 1 (Haziran/June 2009)
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s
Contribution to Great Game British Politics*
Gezi Anlatımı ile Propaganda: Frederick Burnaby’nin Büyük Oyun Dönemi İngiliz Siyasetine
Sinan AKILLI**
In the second half of the nineteenth century, British-Russian relations were defined by war
and conflict due to the former’s desire to check and balance the latter’s increasingly strong
ambitions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In what has come to be known as the Great
Game, the British tried to prevent essentially a possible Russian invasion of India. Such an
invasion could be attained by the Russians either by the occupation of territory in Central
Asia, thereby taking the land route to India, or by expansion into the Mediterranean Sea and
from there to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. The British response to the threat on the
land route was to try and create spheres of influence in the region before the Russians did,
and, at the Mediterranean front, to support the territorial integrity of the weakened Ottoman
Empire against Russian expansionism. Concurrent to these political developments, the
practice of writing and publishing accounts of imperial adventure and/or travel was gaining
increased popularity in Britain, as the political conditions were ripe enough for the reception
of these works. Especially the adventure/travel accounts by pro-imperialist writers were highly
popular among a reading audience which was expanding beyond class boundaries from the
1860s onwards. Therefore, in effect, this vein of travel writing also functioned as a channel
of propaganda for pro-imperialist political views, especially those of Disrealite Tories in the
1870’s. Frederic Burnaby, who was an officer of the British imperial army, a traveler-adventurer
and a writer, was foremost among the pro-imperialist figures who propagated a Russophobic
and Turcophilic tone in British popular politics at that time by his two accounts of travel: A
Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia (1876) and On Horseback through Asia
Minor (1877). In this article I will explore and illustrate the discursive strategies deployed by
* A short version of this article was presented at the 29th Annual Conference of the Nineteenth Century
Studies Association: “Politics and Propaganda” at the Florida International University, Miami, Florida,
USA on April 3, 2008.
** Assist. Prof. Dr., Aksaray University, Faculty of Science and Letters, Department of Western Languages and
Literatures, [email protected]
© 2009, Hacettepe University Faculty of Letters, All Rights Reserved
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
Burnaby towards the creation of a Russophobic-Turcophilic tone in these two works and show
how they may have contributed to popular political propaganda during the Great Game.
Keywords: Frederick Burnaby, Great Game, travel writing, propaganda, British imperialism
On dokuzuncu yüzyılın ikinci yarısı boyunca Britanya-Rusya ilişkileri Rusya’nın Doğu Avrupa
ve Orta Asya’da giderek güçlenen emeller beslemesi ve Britanya’nın da bu emelleri kontrol
altına alıp dengelemek arzusunda olmasından dolayı savaş ve çatışma eksenlerinde gelişmişti.
Zaman içerisinde Büyük Oyun (Great Game) olarak adlandırılan bu dönemde, Britanya’nın
temel politikası Hindistan’ın Rusya tarafından muhtemel bir işgalini engellemeye çalışmak
olmuştu. Rusya tarafından bu tür bir işgal ya Orta Asya’da toprak kazanarak Hindistan’a
karadan ulaşılmasıyla, ya da Akdeniz’e ve oradan da Süveyş Kanalı yoluyla Hint Okyanusu’na
geçilmesiyle mümkün olabilirdi. Britanya’nın bu tehdide karşı izlediği tutum Orta Asya’da
Ruslardan önce kendi nüfuz bölgelerini oluşturmaya çalışmak ve Akdeniz cephesinde de
zayıflamış olan Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun toprak bütünlüğünü Rus yayılmacılığına karşı
muhafaza etmeye çalışmak olmuştu. Bu politik gelişmelerle eş zamanlı olarak Britanya’da
emperyal macera ve/veya seyahat anlatımlarının yayımlanması giderek popüler hale gelmişti.
Bilhassa da emperyalizm yanlısı yazarlar tarafından yazılan macera/seyahat anlatımları, 1860’lı
yıllardan beri giderek sosyal sınıf sınırlarını da aşacak şekilde genişleyen okuyucu kitlesi
arasında son derece popülerlik kazanmıştı. Bu nedenle, bu türden seyahat anlatımları 1870’li
yıllarda görülen emperyalizm yanlısı politik görüşlerin, bilhassa da Disraeli liderliğindeki Tory
partisinin görüşlerinin propagandasına da fiilen araç olmuştu. Britanya Kraliyet Ordusu’nda bir
subay ve aynı zamanda da bir gezgin-maceracı ve yazar olan Frederic Burnaby, yazmış olduğu
A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia (1876) ve On Horseback through Asia
Minor (1877) başlıklı iki seyahatnamesi ile Britanya’da dönemin popüler politika sahnesinde
Rus-karşıtı ve Türk-yanlısı tutumun propagandasını yapmış olan emperyalizm yanlısı kişilerin
başlıcalarındandır. Bu makalede Burnaby’nin bu iki eserde söz konusu Rus-karşıtı Türkyanlısı tutumu yaratmak için kullandığı söylemsel stratejiler açıklanmakta ve örneklenmekte;
ayrıca bu iki eserin Büyük Oyun döneminde yapılan popüler politik propaganda sürecine nasıl
katkıda bulunmuş olabileceği gösterilmektedir.
Anahtar sözcükler: Frederick Burnaby, Büyük Oyun, sehayatname, propaganda, Britanya
In the harsh winter of 1876-77, during his annual leave, a captain of the British
Army was traveling across Anatolia, the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, at his own
expense. Combined with his military discipline, Captain Frederick Burnaby also had an
adventurous spirit which had taken him to Russian-controlled Central Asia in the previous
winter. His objectives in taking the trip to Anatolia were, first, to see if the accusations
directed by the European and more specifically British newspapers against the Ottoman
Turks for cold-bloodedly and systematically massacring the Christian subjects of the
Empire were based on reality1; and second, to observe if the Ottoman state had the means
and the strength to stand against a possible military attack by Russia2, the new imperial
Burnaby was obviously disturbed by the biased judgments of some writers of the British press, and had
certainly read, before he came to Anatolia, William E. Gladstone’s pamphlet entitled “Bulgarian Horrors”
power in Eurasia which considered itself as the protector and guardian of these Christian
populations. What makes Burnaby’s travels to Central Asia and Anatolia important from
a literary and cultural studies perspective, however, is his writing of narrative accounts
of each of these travels, namely A Ride to Khiva (1876), and On Horseback through
Asia Minor (1877), respectively. The significance of these books, in turn, stems from
the fact that they represented a political statement, one with a “Russophobe-Turcophile”
(Hopkirk, 1992, p. 361) tone, and propagated it for a growing reading audience in Britain3
at a time in which the Eastern Question and the Great Game4, both set within the larger
period of New Imperialism5, overlapped. In this respect, here I will explore and illustrate
the discursive strategies deployed by Burnaby in these works, and show how they must
have functioned as a channel of propaganda for the pro-imperialist politics represented
by the Conservative Party in Britain, which was also the dominant political attitude in the
late 1870’s.
By the time Burnaby was traveling in the Ottoman heartland, Russia had begun
to use racism and nationalism, in addition to religion, as instruments to unite all the
Slavic peoples of the Balkans, then under Ottoman control, under Russian leadership
(Okyar, 1984, pp. 64-65). Consequently, propaganda and agitation on the pretence that
the Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire were maltreated and persecuted
by the Ottoman Turks triggered troubles in the Balkans (Okyar, 1984, p. 65). Obviously
inspired by the old ‘divide and conquer’ principle, the Russian policy was to send agents
to the region and agitate the Christian populations there against Ottoman authority6. As
Justin McCarthy reports:
(1876), in which the author blamed the Turks for all the violence in the Balkans. His personal observations
and the information he collects from Christians across Turkey soon convince him about the exaggerated and
fabricated nature of such stories as told by Gladstone and other pamphlet writers. To support this argument,
in Appendix IV of On Horseback through Asia Minor (pp. 331-336), Burnaby presents an extract from an
official dispatch sent by Sir Austen Henry Layard, the British Ambassador in İstanbul (1877-1880) to the Earl
of Derby, dated May 30, 1877, in which the ambassador expresses his disapproval of some English journalists
“who boast that they invented these stories with the object of ‘writing down’ Turkey” (pp. 334-335).
Both Appendix B. (XVI.), entitled “Sir John Burgoyne on the Defences of Constantinople,” and Appendix
B. (XVII.), entitled “The Chekmagee Lines” in On Horseback through Asia Minor are reports by military
experts, which contain strategic information for the prevention of a possible invasion of İstanbul by
For full-length accounts of the emergence and growing of a mass reading audience in Britain from the
1870’s onwards as a result of concurrent technological, social, economic and political developments,
see Altick, R. D. (1957). The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public
1800-1900. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, and Blake, A. (1989). Reading Victorian Fiction: The
Cultural Context and Ideological Content of the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Houndmills: Macmillan.
The term ‘Great Game,’ which refers to the imperial rivalry between Britain and Russia in Central Asia was
first introduced to popular reading audiences by nineteenth-century British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his
novel Kim (1901) (Hopkirk, 1992, p. 1).
New Imperialism refers to the period of aggressive territorial acquisition by European imperial powers
roughly between early 1870’s and World War I. During the period, Britain’s major rivals were Russia,
France and Germany. For detailed accounts of New Imperialism, see Cohen, B. J. (1973). The Question of
Imperialism: The Political Economy of Dominance and Dependence. New York: Basic, and Smith, W. D.
(1982). European Imperialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Also see Appendix IV of On Horseback through Asia Minor (pp. 331-336), which is the extract from the
correspondence between Sir Austen Henry Layard, and the Earl of Derby, dated May 30, 1877, for the
former’s explanation of the way Russian agents provoke tension in Ottoman territories.
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
In 1875, Serbs in Bosnia began a rebellion, intending to join the province
to Serbia and Montenegro, with the active support of the two states. […]
However, the Ottoman army was able to put down the revolt. Serbia,
thwarted by the Ottoman success, declared war, but it, too, was defeated by
the Ottomans in 1876. Then events in Bulgaria took the stage. Bulgarian
nationalists began a revolt in 1876. (1997, p. 339)
On the other hand, in Central Asia, Russians were annexing territory from the Turkic
peoples under the pretence of bringing civilization to the Central Asian steppes. Britain’s
response to all this was to check and balance Russia’s increasingly strong ambitions in
Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In what has come to be known as the Great Game, the
British tried to prevent essentially a possible Russian invasion of India (Hopkirk, 1992,
p. 1-2; Mahajan, 2002, p. xi). Such an invasion could be attained by the Russians either
by the occupation of territory in Central Asia, thereby taking the land route to India7, or
by expansion into the Mediterranean Sea and from there to the Indian Ocean via the Suez
Canal. The British response to the threat on the land route was to try and create spheres of
influence in the region before the Russians did, and, at the Mediterranean front, to support
the territorial integrity of the weakened Ottoman Empire against Russian expansionism.
In other words, the key concern from the perspective of British interests was neither
Russia, nor the Ottoman Empire, but India.
The period in question coincides with Benjamin Disraeli’s second premiership as
the leader of the Tories from February 1874 to April 1880. With respect to the Great
Game context, probably the most important developments during Disraeli’s second
term were his purchasing of the Suez Canal shares from the Khedive of Egypt in 1875,8
and his proclamation of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India in 1877. Both of these
developments were proof that the main goal of the imperialist policies at the time was
to enhance the British presence in India. This point has been elaborated upon by Sneh
Mahajan who claimed that
[p]oliticians, officials and scribes, and following them historians, have used
phrases like ‘national interest’, ‘vital interests’, ‘British interests’, ‘imperial
interests’, ‘Mediterranean interests’, ‘British interests in Constantinople’,
etc., in the context of British policy in the Mediterranean, the Near East and
in the context generally of the Anglo-Russian setting in Asia. In fact […]
these were euphemisms for ‘in the interest of defense of frontiers of India’ or
‘in the interest of the security of the route to India’. (2002, p. xi)
The consequence of this was the emergence and propagation of a tone in British politics
which was antagonistic to the main threat to India, namely Russia, and sympathetic to the
The verbally drawn map of “the vast chessboard” called the Great Game as “stretch[ing] from the snowcapped Caucasus in the west, across the great deserts and mountain ranges of Central Asia, to
Chinese Turkestan and Tibet in the east” by Peter Hopkirk would make it easier to visualize the situation
(1992, p.2).
Benjamin Disraeli considered the Suez Canal as one of the most strategic locations to be possessed and
secured because of the easy access it allowed to the Indian Ocean and to the Australia-Pacific region.
country which was standing between Russia and the routes to India, namely the Ottoman
Empire. Hence, the terms Russophobic and Turcophilic; and hence the main concern of
this article, which is to explicate how Burnaby’s accounts of travel must have contributed
to this Russophobic-Turcophilic effect.
It seems clear that in the universe of Burnaby’s works, his propaganda is based on
three main discursive narrative strategies, which sometimes overlap: 1) the counterposing
of the attitudes towards the British in Russia and the Ottoman Empire respectively, and
how British travelers are received in these countries, 2) the laying bare of Russia’s
intentions by document and testimony, and, 3) the foregrounding of a critique of the
state of Orthodox Christianity, Russian civilization and the support they receive from the
Liberal, especially Gladstonian circles in Britain, who provide misinformed and partial
representation of contemporary events in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
Apparently, the way in which a traveling British officer is received in a given country
had strong implications for Burnaby as to the general attitude of the people of that country
and its government towards the Britain. For in both A Ride to Khiva and On Horseback
through Asia Minor, he particularly dwells upon the circumstances under which he was
given permission to enter and travel in his destinations. As a matter of fact, what triggered
his mind to travel to Central Asia was a paragraph he saw in a newspaper “to the effect that
the Government at St. Petersburg had given an order that no foreigner was to be allowed
to travel in Russian Asia, and that an Englishman who had recently attempted a journey
in that direction had been turned back by authorities” (Burnaby, 1876, p. 3). He goes on
to explain his reaction to the paragraph as: “I have, unfortunately for my own interests,
from my earliest childhood what my old nurse used to call a ‘contradictorious’ spirit, and
it suddenly occurred to me, Why not go to Central Asia?’” (1876, p. 3). After his threeand-a-half-day journey from London to St. Petersburg, the information he received from
his British friends there was confirming the restrictions of travel. They told him he “might
as well try to get to the moon” (1876, p. 27). Later, during his travel, Burnaby himself
comments about his travel restrictions by noting that
[i]t was really extraordinary to see how much interest this paternal government
in St. Petersburg took in my movements. Here I was travelling in a country
where the rulers defend the despoliation of the inhabitants in Central Asia,
and the annexation of their territory, on the ground that it is done for the
purpose of Christianity and civilization. And yet the government of this
civilized nation made as much fuss about my travelling in Central Asia as any
mandarin at Pekin, whose permission I might have had to ask for a journey
through the Celestial Empire. (1876, p. 82)
The account of Burnaby’s travel to Anatolia one year later, on the other hand, tells a
different story with regard to his reception as a foreigner. Before leaving London he
writes to the Turkish Ambassador to ask if there might be any objections to his travel,
and to his letter he receives “the most courteous reply”, which informs him that “every
Englishman could travel where he liked in the Turkish Empire, and that nothing was
required but the ordinary foreign office passport, one of which His Excellency enclosed”
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
(Burnaby, 1877, p. x). To build upon the effect created by this impressive first contact,
later in the book Burnaby frequently informs the reader that “the hospitality of the
Turkish nation is proverbial. The generosity of the Turks is equally great” (1877, p. 75),
and that in Anatolia, “no matter where an Englishman may ask for shelter, he will never
find a Mohammedan who will deny him admittance” (1877, p. 85). Burnaby is clearly
fascinated by the Turkish custom and is eager to share his fascination with his British
readers. Yet making a direct statement to that end would probably not be good for his
assumed objectivity and impartiality. Therefore, he conveys his message indirectly by
mentioning a story he hears about a fellow European Christian, one Mr. Thompson,
who was offered a clean bed and food by a Turkish villager when there were not any
vacant rooms at the inn he was hoping to stay. The English Consul who tells the story
to Burnaby and whose status adds to the authoritativeness of his view asks: “the Turk
was a Mohammedan, and Mr. Thompson a Christian; if the Turk had been in England,
and found himself placed in a similar predicament to Mr. Thompson, do you think that
there are many Englishmen who would have behaved so generously to an utter stranger?”
(Burnaby, 1877, p. 73). Burnaby’s aim here is to impress his English readers by implying
the moral superiority of the Turks even to themselves with regard to the specific virtues of
hospitality and generosity, thereby creating a Turcophile tone as opposed to the one which
accompanies his Russian experience. It follows that by counterposing the atmosphere of
restriction and suspicion he had experienced in Russia with that of a welcoming Ottoman
Anatolia, Burnaby’s works must have created a potentially hostile picture of the former
country, whereas a friendly portrait of the latter was as much purposefully drawn in the
minds of his readers.
Burnaby’s second strategy is to reveal to his readers Russia’s real intentions by
document and testimony. As a matter of fact, this aspect of Burnaby’s travel accounts is
probably the best proof of their propagandist nature. For travel accounts, Burnaby’s works
contain a tremendous amount of reference to primary sources such as official reports,
diplomatic letters, etc., as well as testimony from people, who he uses as mouthpiece.
These help him make his point about the Russian threat. However, in order not to distract
the reader from the main travel narrative, when it comes to documentation, he only uses
brief quotations or paraphrases from these sources in the text, giving the full-text versions
in the several appendices which typically occupy the last pages of both his books. To
illustrate, Burnaby sets the political framework within which his A Ride to Khiva should be
read at the very beginning, by quoting in the Preface from a work about the Russo-Indian
Question published in St. Petersburg in the same year. The Russian author he was quoting
from wrote: “Another advantage which we have gained consists in the fact that from our
present position our power of threatening British India has become real, and ceased to be
visionary. In this respect our Central Asian possessions serve only as an étape on the road
to further advance, and as a halting place where we can rest and gather fresh strength”
(Burnaby, 1876, p. v). In using this striking and alarming quotation at the very beginning,
Burnaby’s obvious intention is to canalize the reader into reading the rest of his travel
account with a Russophobic state of mind. Later in A Ride to Khiva, to make his readers
visualize the Russian threat, he refers, for example, to several troop movements which
show Russian generals’ annexation of territory in Central Asia in spite of prior assurances
given to the British government (Burnaby, 1876, p. 157). As for testimony, Burnaby uses
the account of an interesting conversation between himself and two Russian ladies with
whom he shares a carriage on the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. The two ladies
are on the train to collect money to be sent to Herzegovina to support the insurgents.
Unaware of his nationality the ladies ask Burnaby to donate money, which, to avoid
their suspicion, he does by giving a small amount. The lady who takes Burnaby’s money
thanks him in a very ironic way: “Thank you, brother. It will help to keep the sore open;
the sooner the Turk falls to pieces the better. What is the good of our having a fleet on the
Black Sea unless we can command the Dardanelles? The longer this affair continues in
Herzegovina the more likely we are to reach Constantinople” (Burnaby, 1876, p. 36). One
can easily assume that such a testimony must have had contributed to the propagation of
a Russophobic-Turcophilic attitude in the minds of Burnaby’s English readers. After all,
only one year after Burnaby’s visit to Russia, in 1877 they would be singing a patriotic
anti-Russian propaganda song that would read:
We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too,
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople. (“MacDermott’s War Song
Since the song “‘By Jingo,’9 also known as ‘We don’t want to fight’ and ‘The Dogs
of War’” (Summerfield, 1989, p. 25) came to be the source of the term jingoism, the
most well-known term to express extreme British patriotism, especially in the form of
aggressive foreign policy, I would argue, Burnaby’s documentation and use of testimony
must have had significant contributions to the formation of this political attitude in late
nineteenth-century British politics.
Similarly, in his account of travel in Anatolia, Burnaby uses documentation and
testimony to the same effect. One example is his conversation with his host in Ankara,
who comments on the role of Russian agents in the provocation of conflict in Ottoman
territory. Burnaby’s host complains that the Russian ambassador in İstanbul
is himself a prime mover in the secret societies which are agitating Europe.
The Russian Government pretends to be alarmed at the secret societies, but it
is the hot-bed of all the secret societies in the world. [Reference to an Official
Dispatch in Appendix] You may depend on it […] that the massacres which
occurred in Bulgaria had been planned long before the outbreak. Our regular
troops had been purposely sent to other parts of the empire. (1877, p. 66)
Further east in Anatolia, in Sivas, Burnaby reports to the reader the content of his
conversation with the Governor of the city himself concerning the threat Russians pose to
the Ottoman Empire, and hence to British interests:
The song was originally written by G. W. Hunt in 1877, but was performed before music-hall audiences,
and therefore popularized, by G. H. Macdermott during a political crisis in 1877-1878 when the Russian
fleet threatened to attack İstanbul. Thereafter, several other songs expressing “the righteousness of British
predominance” came to be known as “jingo songs” (Summerfield, 1989, pp.25-26).
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
He now told me that twenty-five years ago the Turks and Christians got on
very well together, but ever since the Crimean war the Russian government
has been actively engaged in tampering the Armenian subjects of the Porte,
and has been doing its best to sow the seeds of disaffection amongst the
younger Armenians by promising to make them counts and dukes in the
event of their rising in arms against the Porte. (1877, pp. 145-46)
Again, by providing this kind of information and knowing its implications for his reader,
what Burnaby was doing was far beyond simply writing a travelogue. He was, in fact,
involved in systematic and purposeful political propaganda through travel writing.
This fact can also be supported by the nature of the last strategy Burnaby used
in the two books discussed here, that is the foregrounding of a critique of the state of
Orthodox Christianity, Russian civilization and the support they received from the
Liberal, especially Gladstonian, circles and press in Britain, who gave misinformed and
partial representation of contemporary events in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. His
main criticism of Orthodox Christianity and Russian civilization is focused on the abuse
of ‘Christianity’ and the concept of ‘Civilization’ for political and imperial ambitions by
the Russians. With reference to the earlier annexation of Khiva by Russians, for instance,
Burnaby comments on the typical motivations of Russian generals in pursuing war. By
these generals, he explains,
[a] life in Central Asia in time of peace is looked down upon with contempt.
With everything to be gained by war and nothing by piece, we need not be
surprised should every little pretext be sought for to provoke reprisals on the
part of the native population. Europe then hears of the cruelties committed
by the brutal fanatics in Central Asia, of Russian magnanimity, and of
Mohammedan intolerance. […] The lust for conquest is cloaked in a garb
called Christianity. […] Thousands of the natives who are mown down
by that evangelical weapon, the breechloader; and one day we read in our
morning newspapers that a territory larger than France and England has been
added to the Tsar’s dominions. (1876, pp. 96-97)
Later in the narrative, Burnaby gives the specific example of the treatment of the
Turkomans of Khiva by the conquering Russian general. Here he relates the story of how
the Russian general immediately requested part of the huge war indemnity to be paid by
the Turkomans, which in fact was earlier decided to be paid within a fortnight. Burnaby
reports that in order to
ascertain what chance there was of the payment being made […] [t]his
general gave an order to his soldiery not to spare sex or age. Men, women,
and children at the breast were slain with ruthless barbarity. […] And this,
the Russians would have us believe, was done to further Christianity and
civilization. This is the sort of Christianity which some people wish to see
established in Constantinople. Would they like this kind of civilization next
our Indian frontier? (1876, p. 260)
Similar criticism of the misinformation and partiality, especially in the British media,
abounds in On Horseback in Asia Minor. Burnaby’s host in Ankara, for instance, is unhappy
about the one-sided account of the turmoil in Bulgaria given in British newspapers. So,
he complains:
your newspapers always published the accounts of the Bulgarian women and children
who were slaughtered, and never went into any particulars about the Turkish women
who were massacred by the Bulgarians, or about our soldiers whose noses were cut off,
and who were mutilated by the insurgents in the Herzegovina. A Turk values his nose
quite as much as a Christian. (1877, p. 67)
Since one of the pre-defined purposes of Burnaby’s travel in Anatolia is to see if the
news about the maltreatment of the Christian populations who are living there are based
on reality, in each city on his itinerary he talks with the Christians and inquires into the
accusations of the impalement of the Christians, the news of which appear in British
papers. However, the Christians in each city admit that they are on good terms with the
Turks there, but in his next destination probably he would witness the maltreatment of
Christians. As he proceeds from west to east, from İzmir to İstanbul, from İstanbul to
Ankara, from Ankara to Sivas, from Sivas to Erzurum, and so forth he hears the same
story, and eventually after inquiring about the truth of some accusations directed to the
Turkish soldiers who allegedly outraged some Christian women near Erzurum, he writes:
“Like many other statements which had been made to me by the so-called Christians in
Anatolia, it turned out to be a fiction” (Burnaby, 1877, p. 157). To make his point more
credible, in the matter of the impalement of Christians, he even reports the testimony
of three American missionaries residing in Sivas, who, when asked the question were
surprised and explained to Burnaby that “the Turks were by no means a cruel race; but
that their system of administering justice was a bad one” (Burnaby, 1877, p. 143). After
numerous such revelations of the other side of the story by document and testimony,
Burnaby even gives advice to his readers by following which they can free themselves
from the prejudices they have against the Turks: “People in this country who abuse the
Turkish nation, and accuse them of every vice under the sun, would do well to leave off
writing pamphlets and travel a little in Anatolia. […] in many things writers who call
themselves Christians might well take a lesson from the Turks in Asia Minor” (Burnaby,
1877, p. 75).
Having established his Russophobic-Turcophilic point to a great extent, towards the
end of his account of travel in Anatolia, Burnaby now begins to openly criticize the Liberal
circles, and Gladstone himself. In a 1876 pamphlet titled “Bulgarian Horrors” Gladstone
had asked for a change of the British policy of preserving the territorial integrity of the
Ottoman Empire, into a policy of extinction of Turkish power in Eastern Europe, and their
expulsion from the region “with their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their
Yuzbachis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage” (Gladstone,
1876, p. 38). Of course the retreat of the Turks from Eastern Europe automatically meant
the establishment of Russian influence in the region in those days and Gladstone was not
bothered by this. After all, according to him Russia was “the Torch-bearer of Civilization
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
and the Protector of the Unprotected” (Burnaby, 1877, p. 309). Apparently Burnaby was
not unfamiliar with Gladstone’s pamphlet and he refers to it in On Horseback in Asia
Minor with his following sarcastic response to Gladstone’s pro-Russian political views:
Why was the author of ‘Bulgarian Horrors’ silent when his own officials
reported the crimes of the Russian soldiery? We have been told that Russia
is the torch-bearer of civilization, and our military attaché at St. Petersburg
[…] has stated that he believes the Muscovite soldiers are incapable of the
atrocities laid to their charge. Mr. Gladstone has quoted this officer as an
authority. It may be that our military attaché is ignorant of what took place
during the Crimean War. He was a child in petticoats at the time. But Mr.
Gladstone cannot assign extreme youth in his own case as an excuse for bad
memory. (1877, p. 308)
As stated, all of the three strategies Burnaby used in his travel accounts were designed to
create a Russophobic-Turcophilic effect in the minds of his readers, thereby contributing
to the British pro-imperialist propaganda apparatus of the Great Game period. So much
so that, the last paragraph of On Horseback in Asia Minor reads more like a paragraph
from a propaganda pamphlet, rather than from a book of travel. At the end of this book
Burnaby concludes that, “[a]n English contingent force of fifty thousand men could
defend Constantinople against all the Russian armies. It is to be hoped that the Tzar has
thrown down the gauntlet to England by taking action on his own part against the Sultan.
We should accept the challenge, and draw our swords for Turkey” (1877, p. 328).
Of course, as far as propaganda is concerned, one question remains: Did Burnaby’s
propaganda achieve the desired effect or not. The answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Yes, because
on the eve of the war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia in 1877, the RussophobicTurcophilic tone appeared to be the dominant political attitude. As Mahajan puts it,
[i]t is extremely interesting that even the British public did an about-face on
this issue. The people who had lapped up 200,000 copies of Gladstone’s first
pamphlet on Bulgarian atrocities during September-October 1876, purchased
only 7,000 copies of his second pamphlet which was published in January
1877. […] The Russians no longer seemed to be the self-sacrificing apostles
of ‘civilisation’ as was the case only four months earlier. Feelings against
Russia became so intense that Gladstone had his windows broken for his
pains. (2002, p. 41)
Of course, it is hard to directly link this change of heart of the British public with
Burnaby’s works with solid evidence. The bonds between text and context are very rarely
in recognisable and substantial form for any given case. Nonetheless, considering the
popularity of Burnaby as “a hero of Victorian England” with “an unparalleled reputation,”
which is still alive in our day, and that of his best-selling books of travel, A Ride to Khiva
and On Horseback through Asia Minor, without which “no Victorian bookshelf was
complete” (Champkin, 30 July 2000, p. 54), one can assume that his widely-circulated
works must have influenced British public opinion.
On the other hand, in light of the aftermath of the war, the answer to the above question
is ‘No.’ At least, in the sense that even though the Russophobic element was maintained
in British politics, even to our day10, the Turcophilic element was in decline after the
war. Ironically, in the Berlin Conference of 1878, the Ottoman Empire lost territory not
only in Eastern Europe, to the satisfaction of Russia, but also in the Mediterranean, in
the form of the annexation of Cyprus by the British. That signaled the overhauling of the
policy of preserving the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire in British politics.
Historically, within a few decades following the Turco-Russian war, the answer to the
above question became a more definitive ‘No.’ True to the duplicity embedded in the
nature of ‘politics,’11 in the First World War, Britain attacked the Straits and temporarily
occupied İstanbul, which she had vowed to protect from any invading force. During the
war, let alone preserving the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire, Britain acted
as the patron of Greece, which invaded a great part of Western Anatolia. Russia, on the
other hand, had become Soviet Russia by that time and it contributed significantly to the
Turkish War of Independence, which began in 1919 and eventually led to the founding of
the Republic of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Fortunately for him, Burnaby
did not live to see the u-turns in this political history. He was a soldier and an adventurer,
who lost his life in 1885 when fighting in the Sudan as a member of the relief column sent
to Khartoum to save General Gordon, and was buried in the desert (Hopkirk, 1992, p.
362). Yet his books remain as fine examples of the strong potential of the genre of travel
writing as a tool for political propaganda.
Burnaby, F. (1876). A Ride to Khiva: Travels and adventures in Central Asia. Ed. P. Hopkirk.
(1996). N.p.: The Long Riders’ Guild Press.
Burnaby, F. (1877). On Horseback through Asia Minor. Ed. P. Hopkirk. (1996). Oxford:Oxford
University Press.
Cecil, N. (05 March 2009). MI5 is keeping a closer watch on Russian spies [Edition 3]. Evening
Standard, p. 2. Retrieved: 05 May, 2009, Proquest Central Database. (Document ID:
Champkin, J. (30 July 2000). How a hero of Khartoum created the world’s most glamorous magazine:
Swashbuckling adventures of the colonel who fought for the Empire and gave the world
Vanity Fair: [FB edition]. Mail on Sunday, p. 54. Retrieved: 05 May, 2009, Proquest Central
Database. (Document ID: 57283812).
10 News of the poisoning, allegedly by Russian spies, of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, who
died in London in November 2006 due to exposure to radioactive Polonium-210, led to the rise of another
wave of Russophobia in Britain and resulted in “the spending [of] more time tracking Russian agents” by
MI5, “with Russia accused of Cold War levels of espionage” (Cecil, 05 March 2009, p. 2).
11 Before the 1870’s, as Summerfield (1989, p. 25) explains, the Ottoman Empire “had been regarded in less
then symphatetic terms as a despotic ‘heathen’ power endangering the independence of the Balkan states.”
Yet, when the British interests were threatened, the protection of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire
became a “moral imperative” (Summerfield, 1989, p. 25).
Propaganda through Travel Writing: Frederick Burnaby’s Contribution to Great Game British Politics
Gladstone, W. E. (1876). The Turco-Servian war: Bulgarian horrors and the question of the East.
New York: Lowel, Adam, Wesson and Company. [Online Edition] Retrieved: 06 February
2008, Google Books:
Hopkirk, P. (1992). The Great Game: The struggle for empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha
Mahajan, S. (2002). British foreign policy 1874-1914: The role of India. London: Routledge.
McCarthy, J. (1997). The Ottoman Turks: An introduction to history to 1923. MacDermott’s war
song (1877). New York: Longman. (n.d.) Retrieved: 04 March 2009, The Victorian Web:
Okyar, O. (1984). Turco-British relations in the inter-war period: Fethi Okyar’s mission to London.
In W. Hale and A. İ. Bağış (Eds.), Four centuries of Turco-British relations (pp. 62-79).
North Humbershire, UK: The Eothen Press.
Summerfield, P. (1989). Patriotism and empire: Music-Hall entertainment, 1870-1914. In J. M.
MacKenzie (Ed.), Imperialism and popular culture (pp.17-48). Manchester: Manchester
University Press.

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